How a Few Bad Campaigns Sparked Diageo to Make 3 Truly Inspiring Ones

CMO Syl Saller on brand purpose

Guinness found the right message with rugby star Gareth Thomas.

CANNES, France—How do you know when you’ve created great work? You make some really bad stuff first.

That was the message from beverage company Diageo CMO Syl Saller and global head of Baileys and beers for Diageo Mark Sandys in their keynote address at Cannes Lions this year. “We have all made bad work. Why don’t we talk about it more? I think the humility to say I blew it is the hallmark of a great leader,” Saller said. “I think it means you care more about getting things right than you do about your ego.”

The CMO and Sandys listed six concepts (from credibility and courage to consistency and collaboration) that Diageo relies on for every campaign it works on for each of its brands. They look at why the brand exists and what impact it can have on the world because “unless we can have clarity on that, we are going to get it wrong,” Sandys said.

Oftentimes, she explained, brands try too hard to enter a conversation with consumers that they don’t belong in. “Lately there has been a lot of controversy around this because it’s hard to get it right,” Saller said. Diageo and its brands are no exception to this, but what Saller and Sandys hammered home in their keynote is that if you don’t try, you won’t fail and from failure can come great work.

Saller and Sandys had a few key examples to illustrate how they failed, what they learned and how they fixed it.


Five years ago, Diageo wanted to evolve the Guinness platform after years of championing the tagline, “Guinness is Good For You.” The brand came up with a new tagline, “Made of More,” a beer made of more for people made of more, and launched a campaign in 2013 that missed the mark.

“We didn’t connect with either the beer made of more or the people made of more to start with, but to a clock made of more,” Sandys said.

The bad: “Clock,” 2013

“What we lost was credibility because what it didn’t have was humanity that sits at the heart of great Guinness work, but it was a really important stepping stone to figuring out how this platform was going to work,” he added.

The good: “Made of More, Gareth Thomas,” 2015

Following “Clock,” Guinness decided to use its new platform to focus on real stories of people doing more and people with strong character impacting not just the people around them, but the world.

The brand partnered with rugby player Gareth Thomas, the first rugby player to come out as gay, for a different iteration of the campaign. The result was a campaign that won a Glass Lion at Cannes and challenged stereotypes by using the Guinness voice and brand.


Looking back at the brand, Smirnoff was facing tough competition from plenty of other brands, both craft vodkas and high-end, luxury ones, but “Smirnoff has always been affordable, accessible and democratic,” Saller explained.

At one point though, the brand strayed from what makes it unique and created a spot that could have been made by just about any company in any category.

The bad: “Be There,” 2010

“If I turn down the sound, I don’t quite know if that was a Smirnoff or a Bacardi ad because it looks like generic nightlife,” Saller said.

With that in mind, six years later Smirnoff created a campaign that Saller thinks really capitalizes on the brand’s purpose. “It’s a brand for everybody therefore the purpose for Smirnoff around inclusivity is credible,” she added.

The good: “We’re Open, Chris Fonseca,” 2016

Smirnoff felt that as a vodka brand it had authority to speak on nightlife and music festivals, two places where the brand is prominent. Again it looked for real stories to share with consumers and would inspire them, but the brand avoided invading a space where it didn’t belong.

Captain Morgan 

As craft spirits were spiking the U.S., Captain Morgan started to lose ground. “A big driver in the craft craze is the quest for authenticity,” she said. That led Diageo to think about bringing the Captain and his story to life, making him feel a bit more real. They released the campaign on the real Captain Henry Morgan’s birthday, “assuming anyone would actually know what that was.”

While the cinematography was great, the message didn’t fit with the Captain Morgan brand.

The bad: “To Life, Love & Loot,” 2011

The campaign did nothing to move consumers and was an overall flop. Captain Morgan went back to the drawing board, discovering that consumers feel pressure from social media to live a perfect life and find success all the time. “Sometimes people just want to have fun,” Saller said. That led to this next spot.

The good: “Live Like the Captain,” 2017